While PC makers initially targeted laptops with 3D displays and glasses at gamers, Acer is hoping to widen their appeal to all sorts of entertainment seekers. Priced at $999, the Aspire 5745DG is the least expensive 3D notebook we've tested that uses Nvidia's impressive 3D Vision technology. Powered by a Core i5 processor, this 15.6-inch system can also output 3D content to a compatible TV via its HDMI connection. So is this multimedia machine really a bargain?
There's nothing really remarkable about the 5745DG's design. Its glossy black lid picks up fingerprints, but a subtle striped metallic pattern adds some visual flair. The rest of the somewhat boxy chassis is a gray plastic, and the palm rest is made to look like brushed aluminum.
While not as large as a desktop replacement, the size and bulk of the 5745DG means it's not going to travel much. It tips the scales at 6.2 pounds, around the average for a 15-inch system. Its 9-cell battery protrudes out the bottom towards the rear, and while it angles the system towards you--making typing more comfortable, it raises the height of the notebook to 2.3 inches.
Having a spacious underside means that the 5745DG stayed fairly cool. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad and the G and H keys reached 92 degrees, but the middle of the bottom stayed a cool 85 degrees.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The 5745DG uses the same FineTip keyboard that's become standard on all Acer notebooks. The keys are flat on top and separated from each other, and a full number pad sits to the right. We found the typing experience fairly comfortable but certainly not best in class.
Above and to the right of the keyboard is a programmable quick-launch button and an eject button. Considering that the system is geared toward entertainment, we would have appreciated dedicated media keys, or at least ones to control the volume.
The 3.5 x 1.9-inch touchpad is comfortably large and friction-free, and we like like the discrete mouse button beneath. However, a divot in the middle would have been appreciated.
Display and Audio
Size and resolution-wise, the 15.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display on the 5745DG is about as common as you can get. However, it has a refresh rate of 120Hz--twice that of typical notebooks--in order to display 3D content. Regardless of what we watched--in 2D or 3D--colors on the glossy display were bright, but viewing angles were limited to almost directly in front of the display; even when we were sitting on either side, the picture washed out.
For an entertainment notebook, the 5745DG's audio quality disappointed. While we liked the Dolby virtual surround for gaming, because sound really seemed to envelop us, there was little bass. Explosions and music ended up sounding somewhat tinny as a result. You'll definitely want to plug in headphones or external speakers.
Ports and Webcam
The right side of the 5745DG has a tray-loading DVD drive, and three USB ports. The left has an additional USB port, plus VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, and headphone and mic jacks. The left front lip of the laptop houses a 5-in-1 memory card slot.
Acer uses Nvidia's active-shutter 3D technology for the 5745DG. A transmitter inside the notebook communicates with a pair of included glasses, whose lenses flicker on and off to create a 3D effect. In general, the viewing experience easily beats notebooks that use polarized glasses like the Lenovo IdeaPad Y560d.
The glasses, which must be recharged via miniUSB, weigh just 1.8 ounces and are comfortable to wear, even for those who also wear glasses. We like that the Nvidia specs have a green light indicating they're working. The Xpand glasses that came with the HP Envy 17 3D (which uses ATI's 3D technology) can't be recharged; you have to replace a small watch-sized battery--and there's no light telling you they're on.
When an app that could take advantage of 3D opened, the lenses on the Nvidia glasses flickered to life. Annoyingly, the screen went black for a second or two as the display readied itself to show 3D content. This was distracting, to say the least. Another small annoyance was that, even when playing a 3D video, such as the Acer 3D Demo, we had to click an icon to enable 3D. Shouldn't this effect turn on automatically?
You'll want to keep the 5745DG's screen brightness cranked up when enjoying 3D content. When watching the same trailer for Resident Evil: Afterlife on both the Acer and the HP Envy 17 3D, we noticed that Nvidia's glasses had a darker tint when in use. To be fair, though, the more expensive Envy has a brighter screen.
Despite the less-than-ideal frame rates when playing games such as Call of Duty, we enjoyed the more immersive experience. It was a bit harder to aim than we'd like but Nvidia includes a utility in its control panel that enables a 3D laser sight in a number of games. You can even select what the sight looks like.
More casual games, such as World of Warcraft, were great fun in 3D: We got the real sense that our character was actually flying through the valleys of Origammar. While the experience was slightly more immersive and brighter when using the HP Envy 17, we liked the fact that the Acer 5745 let us just open WOW and start playing. With the ATI-powered HP, we had to launch the game using the TriDef Ignition software.
Other 3D Content
Unless you're creating your own movies and photos, there's not much online that you can watch in 3D yet. Nividia is trying to fill that gap through its beta site, 3dvisionlive.com, which has a number of 3D videos. While content is limited, Nvidia says the site will allow users to post their own 3D photos and videos starting in 2011. The company also told us that a driver update in the next few weeks would add support for Google Earth.
While we realize that Acer was trying to hit a price point, the lack of a Blu-ray player capable of showing high-def 3D movies means that the 5745DG is less future-proof than we'd like. Although there are only 25 Blu-ray 3D titles currently available on Amazon, for an entertainment-focused machine, it's an unfortunate omission, especially considering that the 5745DG can output 3D content via HDMI to a 3D-enabled TV.
Nvidia's 3D Vision Photo Viewer can display images in 3D that you've taken with a 3D camera, such as the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3 ($399).
Regardless of its 3D creds, the 5745DG is a fairly powerful notebook for the price. Outfitted with a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-540M processor, 4GB of RAM (upgradable to 8GB), and a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, the notebook fared pretty well in most of our tests. In PCMark Vantage, the 5745DG notched a score of 5,776, about 1,000 points above the typical mainstream notebook. Still, the Dell XPS 15, with a similar processor, but a 7,200-rpm hard drive, scored an even higher 6,112, and the Lenovo IdeaPad Y560d, which has a Core i7 CPU, got 6,172.
Using Oxelon Media Encoder, the 5745DG transcoded a 114MB MPEG-4 to AVI in 53 seconds. That time is almost 10 seconds faster than the average mainstream machine. However, this laptop's 5,400-rpm hard drive wasn't the best. It booted into Windows 7 Home Premium in 69 seconds, about 5 seconds off the pace, and duplicated a 5GB folder of multimedia at a rate of 21.2 MBps, slightly below the 24.1 category average. The XPS 15's drive notched a rate of 28.8 MBps.
While it's primarily aimed at the entertainment market, the 5745DG's Nvidia GeForce GT425M GPU and 1GB of dedicated video memory means it's got some gaming muscle, too. In 3DMark06, the 5745DG scored 4,092, about 500 points higher than the average. That's well below the XPS 15 (6,875) which has a less powerful GT420 GPU, but that's due to the fact that the 120Hz screen on the Acer has to refresh twice as much as the 60Hz screen on the Dell. The Lenovo Y560d's ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5730 blew both notebooks away with a score of 8,068.
In World of Warcraft, the 5745DG saw framerates of 59 fps at native resolution and effects at max; that's more than twice the category average (27) and nearly even with the XPS 15 (65 fps). However, the 5745DG struggled with more demanding titles. In Far Cry 2, the laptop managed just 18 fps with settings maxed out. The same goes for Call of Duty; we saw around 20 fps. The game was playable but choppy. The Y560d, by contrast, delivered framerates of around 40 fps in COD and Far Cry 2 with the resolution at max.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The 5745DG lasted 4 hours and 37 minutes in the Laptop Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi). That's about 40 minutes better than the mainstream average, but that's only because the notebook has a bulky 9-cell battery on the bottom. The XPS 15, which has a 6-cell battery, lasted just 3:06, and the Y560d had a runtime of 2:37.
The Atheros ARB97 802.11b/g/n radio in the 5745DG produced Wi-Fi scores almost identical with the mainstream average. At 15 feet from our access point, we saw throughput of 32.1 Mbps, and at 50 feet, it was 21.7 Mbps. The mainstream averages from those distances are 32 and 21.6 Mbps, respectively.
The Aspire 5745DG comes with a smattering of software, including Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader, NYTimes Reader, Skype, and NTI Media Maker. The McAffee trial software was relentlessly annoying in reminding us that our system was not protected.
The Aspire 5745DG comes with a one year limited warranty. To see how Acer fared on our Tech Support Showdown, click here.
Overall, 3D notebooks are still a work in progress, and both the software and content have a ways to go before this technology will be more widely adopted. But considering most 3D notebooks that use 120-MHz displays and active shutter glasses cost well over $1,000, it's nice to see that Acer is aggressively pricing the 5745DG. Its understated--some may say bland--design won't scare off non-gamers, nor will its $999 price tag. However, unless those users plan on spending a few hundred more on a 3D camera (or a grand on a 3D camcorder) they're going to find very little content to view other than games.
With or without 3D, the limited viewing angles and mediocre audio on the 5745DG make it somewhat disappointing as an entertainment laptop. A similarly configured Dell XPS 15 without a 3D display offers better performance, sound, and design--plus Blu-ray for $100 less. And you can still output 3D content to a larger display.